In this article, I want to share with you how to build a coaching culture within your organization from scratch and align that to your sales philosophy.
I’ll start by explaining the business case for coaching, walk you through why defining a sales philosophy is so important and how you can achieve that, discuss the pre-work you need to do, and finish with a framework to consider before going live within your business.
My name is Dave Nel, I work as the Head of Sales Enablement for Investec Private Bank, we are a dual-listed company on both the Johannesburg Stock Exchange and the London Stock Exchange, and a global private bank.
What I want to talk to you about today is something that is incredibly close to my heart and that's coaching, and more specifically sales coaching.
In this article, I'm going to dive deep, I'm going to talk a little bit about if you have the pleasure, as a sales enablement professional, of building a coaching culture from scratch, how do you go about doing that? How do you go about aligning that to your sales philosophy?
What I'll cover in this article
First of all, I'm going to do the coaching business case, why should I put coaching into my business?
Secondly, I'll help you think through why defining a sales philosophy is so important, and maybe how you could go about doing that.
Third, I'm going to talk about your pre-work and the stuff that you as a sales enablement professional might need to do before making coaching come alive with your leaders.
The fourth thing is, I'm going to leave you with a little bit of a framework or an implementation plan to think through before you actually go live with coaching in your business.
The case for coaching
Many of you sales enablement professionals out there will be familiar with CSO. CSO released an article not too long ago, that clearly said that businesses with a strong coaching culture significantly outperform those without. There's your business case right there.
If you're sitting with any leader and you say, do you want to outperform? I'm not sure how many of them are ever going to say no. But really, what you're talking about is all about revenue, right?
It's all about out-performance, and that's what coaching is about. I'm going to talk about how you're going to bring that alive.
I always think to myself about those world-class Olympic athletes, every single one of them has a coach, even though they're at the top of their game, they still have somebody standing on the sidelines helping them increase their performance and constantly push the boundaries. That coach plays such a critical role.
They often know the athlete better than the athlete knows themselves. The other thing that is always key is that they know the rules of the game. I think that we often forget that a coach needs to know how to be successful, they need to know the rules of the game.
The third thing is they've always got their eye watching the competition and seeing what the other competitors in the race are doing. They use all of this in a very, very creative way, in a trusted way with their athlete to help that person super perform. After all, isn't that what we are trying to create for our salespeople?
I love the sales velocity equation - if you haven't seen it, here it is.
If anyone ever asks me, what do you have to do as sales enablement? I say you have to increase sales velocity. What you're trying to do is you're trying to increase the speed at which we make money or your miles per hour for money - that's a nice definition you've got there. Let's take a quick look at it.
What you're trying to do, and I'm sure you've all seen this is, to increase your numerator and decrease your denominator.
- With your numerator, you've got number of leads, how do we increase that? Average deal size, let's make it bigger.
- Conversion ratios, let's get better conversion ratios.
- At the bottom, let's decrease the average conversion time.
If you can change each of those by 10%, you should see an increase in your sales velocity in excess of 40%. You know when someone says 'oh, we want to have huge growth in our business', really, as a sales enablement professional, just pause for a second and say:
“Okay, those numbers look big, but if we break it down into small bite-sized pieces, and we can just increase the leads a little bit and the deal size a little bit and the conversion ratio a little bit and decrease that conversion time, the net effect is significant to the business.”
That's what coaching does, it helps with every single part of the sales velocity equation.
Obviously, there are other things that you can do to change these numbers as well but coaching is really the thing that's going to ratchet these numbers and make it sustainable for you.
4 foundational steps
Let's jump into the four steps that I might suggest you think about as a sales enablement professional before you launch coaching into your business. I've been lucky enough to build something like this from scratch in my current business.
1. There has been a trigger, understand the trigger
The first one is there is something that has happened, there has been a trigger in your business, and that's caused your leadership team to pick up the phone to you and say, "Hey, Dave, we need some help, or we need coaching, we need to increase the output of our salespeople".
My advice to you is, before you do anything, understand the trigger, and understand the ask. Because at the end of the day, any initiative that you put in as a sales enablement professional, has to be closely backed by your leadership team.
The best way to get the backing of your leadership team is to tie back your efforts as closely as possible to revenue.
What will success look like in the next 6-12 months?
Sit down with your leadership team, and do a little bit of a debrief say, “Well hang on a minute, guys, can we just process for a second, what will success look like over the next six to 12 months in this business?”
What is the shift in revenue you are looking to achieve?
That could be any number of things that they may list, I would drill one step deeper if it was me, and I would say:
“Can we just shift quickly and take a look at revenue, what is your expectation on revenue over the next couple of months, because this coaching that I'm wanting to put in that you guys are asking me to implement, we've got to be clear that it's actually going to shift our outcomes that we're looking to achieve.”
What other financial ratios are important and how do you see these ratios changing?
If you really want to ratchet it up a notch and be a little bit higher level, I guess you could also sit with the business and say,
"Well, can we dive deeper? Can we look at some of the financial ratios? How are you looking to see those change in the business? How do you want to see cost to income shift? ROE, ROI, any other ratios that are important to you?"
Be crystal clear with your business:
- What is the case for change?
- What is it that they're looking to shift?
- What are the metrics that they're looking to see?
You've got to know that because that's what's going to be the motivator, that's going to be the driver behind your senior leadership, getting behind any initiative that you put in place.
2. Define your sales philosophy (the way in which you win)
When you've done that, take a step back and go do a little walkabout in your business. Go and figure out what is your sales philosophy in your organization? Now, you may already have this, which is amazing. If you don't go and test it, what is the sales philosophy people are gonna ask me? Really, it's the way in which you win.
What is selling like here?
So when your salespeople are engaging with your clients, or when you as an organization are engaging with your clients, how can you win? Forget about product for a moment and talk about your sales process:
- What is the sales process that you follow that you win?
- What is that process?
- What's the secret sauce?
- What's the thing that you figured out that works for you as an organization in order for you to increase conversions?
Why is that so important for you to know? Well, that is the thing that your team leaders, that your sales leaders need to coach, they need to enable that sales philosophy. That's kind of like your guiding light. The beacon that drives you forward is what is success in our business? How do we win?
Leadership collaboration is key!
A nice way to do that is to go and sit down with some of your top dealmakers, and ask them the question, what is selling like in this organization?
Tell them to talk you through a process, explain what it feels like, maybe even draw you a picture of what a client would experience. But you really want to get a sense of what do sales feel like and how does it work in this organization. You might even ask the question of what sales methodologies have we adopted in the past?
It's absolutely key that as you go through this process, you make both your sales leaders and your senior leaders part of the process. I would say even your salespeople, because what you're going to come away with is a one or two-line statement that says, 'hey, when we sell in this organization, this is our philosophy, this is how we do it'.
That's going to help you do step number three.
3. Build the support elements for your sales philosophy
Step number three is to build the ecosystem or the supporting elements around your sales philosophy. You've got your beacon, you've got your light, and you know what it is that you're aiming towards. Now what you've got to do is you've got to go and figure out what is going to make that sales philosophy come to life? Or what is going to enable it?
Here are some ways that you might want to do it, but there are definitely more.
What sales process/methodology will support your sales philosophy?
What you might want to do is think about, what sales process or methodology is going to support your sales philosophy? You've got the sales philosophy, the reason we win, what you need is a sales process or methodology to enable it.
There are lots of sales methodologies out there, there are lots of sales processes out there, you've got to find the one that works for your organization, the one that enables your sales philosophy. That's what your leaders are going to coach, you're going to say:
“Hey, leaders, we want to make sure that our people are singing from the same hymn book, they are following a certain philosophy and they are doing that by applying a sales methodology.”
So you've got to make sure that it is crystal clear in your mind.
What are the skills needed for our salespeople in order to live our sales philosophy?
The next thing that you might want to do is once you've picked that methodology, you're going to have to say what skills do our salespeople need in order to live our sales philosophy? That could be lots of different things.
It could be active listening, it could be negotiation skills, conflict resolution, it could be dealing with difficult clients, whatever it is that you think are the skill sets that your salespeople need, in order for them to be able to live the sales philosophy. Because again, that is what your leaders are going to coach.
Think about that Olympic athlete, the coach is asking themselves, what are the skills that this person needs in order to win the race? What is the methodology we're going to apply? How are we going to practice it?
When we do a gap analysis based on these skills where is our biggest opportunity?
Then you maybe want to do a little bit of a gap analysis. You've got your guiding beacon, you've got your methodology, you know what skills are needed, now what you really need to do is go out and ask yourself, where are the gaps? The biggest gaps is where you're going to find the biggest shifts. So you want to make sure that you know, where do you want to focus your coaches?
What sales training can we put in to support/enable our sales philosophy?
The last part that I would do is to think about what kind of sales training you're actually going to put in. Obviously, that training and that sales methodology are two things that are going to be very, very closely linked. You may also want to do a little bit of an audit around your sales leaders.
What is the current state/competency of sales leaders in the business?
Those guys who you are looking to shift to sales coaches, maybe spend some time with them, and go and see how they are currently coaching, if at all. What is the level of coaching or competencies of those sales leaders? Really, really important, I think often people forget this is how well do those leaders know the sales methodology?
That is key, because you can't coach something if you don't know the rules. I can't go and be a coach to the South African rugby team if I don't know the rules of the game of rugby. You've got to make sure that your coaches know the methodology and the rules. Make sure that you have thought through where those coaches' gaps are.
4. Find the coaching methodology that works for your organizational culture
Here's my fourth thing. You know your business case, you've got your leaders behind you, you've defined your sales philosophy, and you've done a little bit of a sales audit to figure out what methodology you're going to implement.
You now need to find the coaching methodology that works for your organization or the teams that you're working with. There are lots of coaching methodologies and frameworks out there.
You've got to find the one that links with your organization’s culture because if it doesn't, it's just gonna get rejected by the organ. Or should I say that organ is going to get rejected by the body, you're going to put something foreign in, it's going to feel wrong, and they're going to kick it out.
Take the time to find the coaching methodology, the framework you want your leaders to follow, that will work for your organization.
How do people currently learn from each other in the business?
Some of the ways you might think about doing this, is to ask the questions, how do people currently learn in this business? How do they learn from each other? Because that's what coaching is, it's a two-way relationship of us learning from each other. So how does that work today?
What are the gaps that you have found in your leaders’ coaching ability and how could a coaching framework help here?
You might also want to say, well, when I did that audit about my team leaders, my coaches, my future coaches, where are the gaps? Because once you identify the gaps, you're going to know what kind of coaching methodology is going to go in to really support and help them.
Is it clear to your leaders, what must I coach, how must I coach it, why must I coach it?
The other thing, which I really love, and I'm going to talk about it at the end of the article, is it clear to your leaders, what they must coach, how they must coach it, and why they must coach it?
When you think about that sales methodology that you're putting in, is it clear to leaders, how they must coach that sales methodology, why they must coach that sales methodology, and how they must coach that methodology? That's absolutely key.
Have you linked the coaching methodology back to sales?
The next thing is, have you linked the coaching methodology back to sales? There are numerous coaching methodologies and frameworks out there, make sure that you can clearly link it back to sales. Otherwise, what you're teaching someone to do is just be a coach.
What we want to do here is we want them to be sales coaches. So keep it tight, keep it all about making sure they help that sales philosophy, and that sales methodology that you've picked, come to life. That's what they need to coach.
How will they learn this coaching methodology?
The last thing that you might want to ask yourself is, how are they going to learn this methodology? What are the things that they are going to do that they're going to be able to learn the methodology you've picked? You might do off sites, you might bring in external coaches, you might do external learning, but at the end of the day, they need to be able to learn it.
Give that some thought. Think about the way you're going to teach this methodology to your leaders.
I know, I care, I can
You've done your pre-work, and you are ready to go and implement the full-on coaching plan. I really love this framework that I saw from Miller Heiman once, which was the 'I know, I care, I can' framework.
Really what it's talking about is, are you sure that you've done all of the boxes before you bring your sales coaching to life in your business? Let's take them one by one and then what I'm going to do is show you an overall picture that will bring it all together.
The first one is 'I know', this is a focus around your senior leaders, not your sales coaches but the people who your sales coaches report to.
The questions that you really want to ask is, do those senior leaders know clearly what is expected of them? Are they clear, committed, and aligned?
Are your leaders clear, committed, and aligned to the direction you are wanting to take?
That's the question, those senior leaders who actually probably are the ones that phoned you at the beginning and said, 'we got a problem and we need your help', are they clear, committed, and aligned to the direction that you want to take? Do they back coaching?
Do they know why coaching is so important?
The second question is, do they know why coaching is important? Sure, they're gonna say, 'Oh, that sounds like a good idea', but do they fundamentally understand and believe that coaching is the right thing to help them achieve that revenue target or goal that we mentioned?
Do they know what their role is?
The third thing is, do they know their role? Different senior leaders are going to have different roles, and it's going to depend on the organization. But is it crystal clear in their mind and in yours, the role that they play in bringing coaching alive in the business?
Have they got a clear communication plan for their teams?
The last one is, look, this is their business, so do they have a clear communication plan for their teams? Is it going to be the sales enablement professional who's going to stand up and launch this initiative? Or is it going to be the senior leaders who are going to do it? And if it is going to be the senior leaders, which is what I would highly recommend, how are they going to go about doing it?
The next one is 'I care'. I care is about your sales leaders or your new sales coaches shall we call them, and your salespeople.
You're asking the questions:
- Do they understand what is meant by coaching?
- Do they understand it?
- Do they feel committed to this plan or this shift that you're trying to create for them?
- Can they describe their role in this process?
- Do they know what their role is?
Can they describe how they fit in?
Your salespeople - what do I have to do? Your sales leaders - what do I have to do? Do they know? The easiest way to have done that is did you involve them in your planning?
Did you involve them in the planning?
When I did steps one through four, I talked a little bit about making sure that you go and do some investigation. Bring your sales leaders in, bring your salespeople in, don't do this all on your own, because you run the risk of them not feeling like they were part of the process.
Have they observed leadership behavior?
Key, probably the most important thing, is have they observed this behavior from their leaders? Your senior, senior leaders, are they also coaching their leaders? Are they seeing this happen elsewhere in the business?
I'm going to show you how it all comes together in a second. Let's just do the last one.
The last one is the 'I can' process. Again it’s for your coaches, those sales leaders that you're wanting to convert to sales coaches.
- Do they have the skills to do what you're asking them to do?
- Have you equipped them with the skills?
- Have you done the training?
- Have they been given the tools?
It might not just be about skills, they might need certain tools in order for them to be able to do the coaching that you want, especially the new world that we found ourselves in where everything seems to be digital and remote.
- Are the coaches getting reinforcements?
- Is coaching being reinforced?
- Are they getting coached?
- Are they constantly hearing from their leaders that coaching is important?
- Are they constantly getting feedback around what's working? And,
- What's not working? Finally,
- Are the measurements clear?
- Do they know what they need to do?
Stop worrying about the outputs but have we focused our coaches, clearly, to say these are the things that we expect you to do, and this is how we are going to measure it.
Keep it simple, don't do too many things and really, really, really try and make sure that it is crystal clear in their mind.
Let's take a look now at what happens when we bring it all together.
I know, I care, I can
We're gonna look at the whole framework together.
Let's start on the left-hand side, which is the red part. This is with your senior leaders. I want you to see what happens when something is missing.
At the top, if you have done your case for change, and you have committed leaders - remember the case for change is why is coaching important? - you've tied it back to a clear revenue initiative, and you have leaders who are committed and said we're going to do this.
Then you're going to find that you don't have a problem. But let's take one of them out.
If there is no case for change, if you haven't linked it close to revenue, close to some kind of financial performance, you're going to find that people in the business go 'it's not urgent, there's no reason for me to do this'.
If you also have a clear case for change, you've linked it to revenue, yet we don't have committed leaders, your senior leaders are not backing the project, what your people are going to find, your coaches who you're wanting to see them shift, they're going to say, 'it's not real, do I really need to do this?'
That's your 'I know' part, if there's a missing piece, your strategy falls apart.
The 'I care' part is interesting to me. The first one is, if it is not clear to me as a sales coach, what's in it for me? Then I ask the question, is it really worth it? If you haven't been able to show people clearly that if you do coaching, this is how the performance of your team will shift and because the performance of your team shifts, you're going to be rewarded more.
If they can't see that, they're not interested, 'it's not worth it to me'. If there is no concrete plan, and you haven't shown them, how am I going to do the rollout? How are we going to measure this? What does training look like? Where do we go from here? If there isn't a well thought out plan, people are going to think this is not going anywhere. Why do I even want to invest my time in it?
The last column is really all about, can I actually do this? Think about your sales leaders who are sitting there on the floor, and you're now asking them to start coaching. If you haven't given them the tools and the training to be successful, they're gonna say 'it's not possible, I just can't do it, there are no tools available, I don't know how, no one did any training, no one keeps on telling me what to do, so at the end of the day, it's just not possible, I can't make the shift'.
The last one is, well, if you aren't reinforcing it, if you aren't constantly coaching them, if you aren't constantly telling them that it's important, what you're going to get is the mindset that it's not for long, 'this thing's not here to stay, it's one of those six months flash in the pan projects and we don't have to really worry about it'.
I hope what you can see is that launching a coaching initiative, or a coaching way of being to your business takes quite a bit of work.
Think clearly, what is it that we're trying to achieve? Make sure that you do those four key pre-work pieces of research.
- Define your sales philosophy,
- Tie it very tight to the problem that you're trying to solve,
- Make sure that you have a sales methodology, and
- Make sure that you found a coaching methodology.
When you've done all of those things ask yourself, have we covered all of the boxes for 'I know, I care, I can'?
As a sales leader, you’re wanting me to shift, you're wanting me to take up coaching more, I need to make sure that I know what's in it for me, that there's a concrete plan, that the tools and the training is there, and the reinforcement is there.
Most importantly, my senior leaders need to have linked it back to a case for change, there needs to be metrics, and the leadership team needs to be committed.
I want to wish you all good luck out there and keep flying the flag of sales enablement.